Wine has a dirty little secret that is does not go very well with some foods.
- Cheese – The fat in the cheese overwhelms the wine.
- Spicy – The higher alcohol in wine can intensify the burn.
- Desserts – Rich, fatty, and chocolate desserts just don’t work well with wine.
When compared to wine:
Beer has a wider variation of intensity and range of flavors from light bready, malty and clean to dark, roasted and coffee-like. In addition beer has variations in alcoholic strength and variations in bitterness. Beer can also expand its range of flavors by adding a wide variety of ingredients such as fruits, spices, barrel aging and more.
Beers have many ‘food’ flavors not found in wine – roasty, toasty, nutty, doughy, and bready. These flavors give a lot more common elements to create a bridge between the beer and the food beyond the fruity and other flavors found in both beer and wine.
Beer is less expensive – world class beers can be found for around $10 for a 22oz bottle while world class wines cost much, much more.
Mass produced beer styles don’t really pair well with most food so most people do not consider beer and food pairings like they do with food and wine. With the increased availability of craft beer, food and beer pairings are becoming more well known and popular.
Principles of Pairing Beer and Food
- Match intensity – Light salads, fish, etc. pair with a lighter and crisper beers. An intense chocolate mousse cake pairs with an intense and roasty beer.
- Richness in food can be balanced – Carbonation bubbles help scrub fat off the tongue. Bitterness/hops balances sweetness and fat like an IPA with carrot cake.
- Find harmonies – Combinations work best when food and beverages share common flavor or aroma elements.
- Look to classic cuisines – The cuisines of beer-drinking countries offer many traditional beer and food combinations, for example German Oktoberfest beers and brats on the grill.
- Practice makes perfect – Not every pairing works as expected – this can be fun if you learn to appreciate the unexpected. Build on the things that work and keep seeking those magical combinations.
- Consider seasonality – The warm summer months favor light foods and beers while heartier fare works best in the winter. The beers and foods of a given season pair naturally together and suit the mood as well.
- Spicy foods – Malty sweet foods will tame the burn. Higher alcohol levels intensify the burn. Hoppy bitterness can also over-intensify the spices and the burn but some people really enjoy this combination.
- When in doubt, go Belgian – Many Belgian beer styles are full of complex flavors that will match many different foods but are not extreme in any one direction. A saison will pair well with nearly anything while a dubbel will pair well with most roasted or grilled meats.
- It is all subjective – Do what you like as everyone tastes food differently.
Cooking with Beer
Beer has bitter elements so avoid reducing beer if possible so the bitterness is not concentrated. Malty and sweet beer styles are often the best choice to use with cooking.
Craft Beer Food and Beer Pairing Chart from CraftBeer.com | link
The Brewmaster’s Table: Discovering the Pleasures of Real Beer with Real Food by Garrett Oliver
The single best book currently available for pairing beer with food plus it is a great overview on beer.
He Said Beer, She Said Wine: Impassioned Food Pairings to Debate and Enjoy by Sam Calagione and Marnie Old
A fun book with lots of banter between beer and wine advocates on paring both with food and which goes better.